Gibraltar on Thursday allowed a detained Iranian supertanker to leave the British overseas territory after a last-minute U.S. attempt to seize the vessel, potentially defusing tensions between London and Tehran as a British-flagged tanker remains held by the Islamic Republic. The release of the Grace 1 comes after the U.S. under President Donald Trump pulled out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago, setting in motion a growing confrontation between Tehran and the West over its atomic program. In past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran and the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone by Iranian forces. Iran has denied being behind the tanker attacks, though it has seized other tankers. The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper reported there was no U.S. application before the court when a hearing on the Grace 1 resumed Thursday afternoon, quoting the court’s chief justice, Anthony Dudley. That allowed the ship to be freed. That’s a stark change from a morning hearing, which saw Gibraltar say the Justice Department sought to seize the vessel “on a number of allegations.” Dudley said that were it not for the U.S. move, “the ship would have sailed,” the Chronicle reported. The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment. Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement that the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar” and that it couldn’t comment further. Prime Minister Boris
Somewhere on its journey from the waters off Iran, around Africa’s southern tip and into the Mediterranean, the Grace 1 oil tanker lost the flag under which it sailed and ceased to be registered to Panama. Iran later claimed it as its own. The ship carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian crude was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar, raising tensions in the Gulf where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation. Grace 1 remains impounded, not because of its flag but because it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, an allegation that Iran denies. Yet Panama’s move on May 29 to strike it from its register mid-voyage was part of a global squeeze on Iranian shipping. Nations that register vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” allowing them to sail legally have de-listed dozens of tankers owned by Iran in recent months, tightening the economic noose around it. In the biggest cull, Panama, the world’s most important flag state, removed 59 tankers linked to Iran and Syria earlier this year, a decision welcomed by the United States which wants to cut off Tehran’s vital oil exports. Panama and some other key flag states are looking more closely at the thousands of ships on their registers to ensure they comply with U.S. sanctions that were re-imposed against Iran last year and tightened further since. A Reuters analysis of shipping registry data shows that Panama has de-listed around 55 Iranian tankers since January, Togo has
The Iraqi government’s move this week to place Iranian-backed militias under the command of the armed forces is a political gamble by a prime minister increasingly caught in the middle of a dangerous rivalry between Iran and the U.S, the two main power brokers in Iraq. Facing pressure from the U.S. to curb the militias, the move allows Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to demonstrate a tough stance ahead of a planned visit to Washington, expected to take place in the coming weeks. It is unlikely, though, that he would be able to rein in the powerful Iran-supported militias, and he risks coming off as a weak and ineffective leader if he doesn’t. Besides having built credibility as an effective force against the Islamic State group, the mainly Shiite militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, are a significant political force, with government ministers and 48 seats in the 329-member parliament. The PMF “is among the parties that achieved victory for Iraq against (the Islamic State group), liberating Mosul and restoring security to the country. The time has come to organize their status in a legal way… meaning no weapons outside the framework of the state,” Abdul-Mahdi told reporters at a weekly news conference Tuesday. That’s a tough sell in a country awash with arms and militias, many of which operate outside the state’s control. The leaders of the larger militias, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr and the Peace Brigades, welcomed the decision, calling it a step in the right
Saudi Arabia said it evacuated an Iranian crew member from a “hostile” ship off the coast of Yemen amid its war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the second-such aid it has offered in recent weeks amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The Saudi military flew rescue paramedics to the Saviz, an Iranian vessel some 95 nautical miles northwest of Yemen’s contested port city of Hodeida, spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said. They then flew the injured Iranian to a military hospital in Jizan, Maliki said. Iran’s mission to the United Nations had made a request to aid the Iranian, Maliki said. The mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. “The leadership of the joint forces has dealt with the situation according to what is dictated by our Islamic religion and human values, despite the threat represented by this suspect vessel, and the hostile acts it carries out against coalition forces and the interests of the Yemeni people and its continued threats to maritime routes and global trade in the Red Sea,” Maliki said in a statement Tuesday. The statement did not elaborate. Saudi Arabia and Iran are chief Mideast rivals and the Saudis since 2017 have alleged the Saviz served as a maritime base and weapons transshipment point for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Briefing materials from the Saudi military earlier obtained by The Associated Press showed men on the vessel dressed in camouflaged military-style fatigues, as well as small boats capable of ferrying cargo to
A White House decision to dispatch an aircraft carrier and other military resources to send a message to Iran followed "clear indications" that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were preparing to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region, a defense official told the Associated Press.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said that the Pentagon approved the deployments and that U.S. forces at sea and on land were thought to be the potential targets. The official declined to be more specific.
White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement Sunday night that the U.S. is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region, an area that includes the Middle East.
Bolton said the move was in response to "a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings." He didn't provide details, but said the U.S. wants to send a message that "unrelenting force" will meet any attack on U.S. interests or those of its allies.
"The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces," he said.